Featured Composer Santiago Veros
What was your upbringing like and where did you grow up?
Santiago: What a great question, Michael. We often answer automatically without thinking about the context. At the end of the day, it’s the easy and quick answer: “On the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. A normal upbringing in an average family.” But, of course, I don’t think about what is considered “normal” in a country like Argentina in the 90s, and I’m sure that the readers of this article might be curious about it.
To provide some context, it’s important to note that Argentina is a country where education is completely free at all levels and the education system is of a very high standard. This means that you see many people from different social classes with university degrees. This gave me highly educated parents who we could say belonged to the intellectual elite. My mother is a sociologist with a master’s degree in demography, and my father is a music therapist. However, getting a well-paid job in Argentina is a miracle, so the economic situation was never the best part of the family during my childhood. It was common at the time and in the region to look for the children’s talents as a way to improve the family’s situation. I always wonder how much the fact of being born in a Latin American country with this context influenced me and my career.
My brother and I started learning music when we were five years old. Looking back now, I don’t think this was healthy. I always ask educators, “How do you think is the best way to educate children in music?” By the way, we had talent, and from my child’s perspective, the instruments were my toys. As a child, I didn’t perceive the coercion or the demand. Moreover, this was combined with the fact that I naturally had tendencies towards repetitive behaviors and feeling comfortable being alone.
Very curious things happened when I was seven. My family was already worried because my speech was not developed. At that age, I also started taking music lessons with Valeria Pelka (who is now a great composer and friend). And let’s say that socialization was conspicuous by its absence. When I entered adolescence, I became concerned about learning to speak well. As I had the ability to be very repetitive and focus on a single task, guess what? After a few years, I became a specialist in the speech apparatus. During that time, my mother worked in another country – and my father was not around – so my brother and I were in charge of the house. Yeah, it doesn’t sound like a happy story but keep in mind that this happened to me as a teenager. This was the dream of every teenager! I had a tool to throw parties, practice speaking, and, for the first time, have friends. And I realized that socializing was fantastic!
I believe this was the beginning of the choral composer I am today and you will see why I tell you. For the first time, I loved being in the company of others – something that I had previously associated with demands, perfectionism, and unpleasant experiences. For the first time, I loved not being required to do anything in particular and being able to have fun without having to do something particularly well. And one day I discovered that there was a discipline that combined all the aspects of life that I liked, and there I fell in love. A discipline that combines music, repetitive behaviors, the fascination for speaking well and working syllable by syllable, the ability to share a wonderful moment with other people and do something absurdly fun – that’s where I found my place in the world – Since then, choral music has been my place in the world. It’s where I want to spend the rest of my life.
What is an experience or part of your identity that you feel has influenced your voice as a composer?
Santiago: Every aspect of life is there, in the sound. In the previous question, I talked about the history of how these aspects came about that led me to make choral music. And I feel that writing choral music and creating a piece is analogous to setting up a house to throw a party and knowing that the guests will have a good time. It’s providing a tool (the score) for people to connect and for everyone to have a memorable moment from that time.
Doing something that is complex and trying to do it in the best way possible is my way of playing, it’s like solving a puzzle. It’s what I did as a child and I still find it extremely fun. The fascination with the transition between vowels and syllables will be there because learning that is what helped me to break through in social life. The love of knowing that what I write will give each singer a beautiful moment is what drives me to start the day. Because I focus on making each line of each voice physiologically comfortable and interesting. That directors can give concerts showing all those changes in dynamics, measures, and rhythms. That the music finds them connected in body and soul with the work and the choir. At the end of the day, the work I write is the party I am giving. And you know what? Like in any party, I want each of the guests to have an excellent time, to have a memorable experience. To have a lot of fun and to feel comfortable.
Likewise, all of this would be useless if there is not an even more transcendent message to share. And this music teaches us that we can say things. The choir is the only instrument that is alive. So we can fill it with the explicit message of taking advantage of the fact that we have each other. We’re not going to be here forever, and it will be good for us to act once and for all to do something useful with our time on earth. Let’s try to dive into the depths of our relationships, into everything that builds us up as humans, and into what kind of mark we want to leave to improve existence. All my works focus on exploring how we relate. Discovering that the connections between people can make a difference and in many cases, make us happy. That’s why my focus is on providing connection, growth, and well-being… and the rest is music.
When working on a commission, what do you find factors significantly into your final product?
Santiago: In a commission, what I like the most is listening to the client and discovering their life. Discovering how I can help them capture their experience in a work. I still remember today when at an ACDA conference, after premiering one of my pieces called HUMAN, Brian Stevens began to talk to me about his relationship with his flutist father. From the experience of him fishing together in the lake until it got dark. Which brought Lake of Stars to life, containing a flute. And the whole work was planned in a poetic way. So Brian and his dad can have another great time together. Share an autumn concert making music together until it gets dark. Being able to provide this unique opportunity so that they can have a moment together is what I am passionate about.
The commission is the way I get to know people more in depth. Even so, in more technical matters, the focus is on painting the words with music and obtaining a well-balanced piece on a structural level. The factors I have in mind are more abstract. They are in the order of how I will render each part of the text and which textures might work best for each section. I also love to think about the types of syllables and what part of the vocal register they belong to when one speaks normally. In Spanish we only have 5 vowels and when writing in English, I have the opportunity to expand the range of vowels. I find that extremely entertaining!
I also focus on ensuring that the final product remains for several generations. Only what stands out transcends. That is why the detail in which each line is correct and that I can be proud of what I am offering. It is truly a complex job because it covers many aspects. But every day I feel very lucky to be able to provide this music.
What current or past piece are you most excited to share with the ListenAfresh audience?
Santiago: One day I opened Instagram and I find that a singer had tagged me in a video where he was singing the bass line of “Galaxias”. And I felt happy that I had fulfilled my purpose. A bass joyfully singing his a cappella line? That had never been seen in a melody song with accompaniment where the soprano is the lead.
This work represents a lot to me and I am happy to share it. Can you guess what it’s about Yes, it’s about human connections. It tells us to think of each person as a star. Under this logic, each person has their own light. And it doesn’t matter if sometimes we are light-years away from each other, we always have the opportunity to radiate light to others. Even when we are very distant, we can be the star that guides those people who have been shipwrecked in life and who, when looking at the sky, see the route that leads them to their destinations. And the magic of all this, is that it all depends on the point of view. That is to say, let’s think about it for a moment, galaxies are really clusters of stars together, and we add the “but” when we say “separated by thousands of light-years”. Sometimes we don’t realize that at the end of the day we are actually very close to each other.
Galaxias – Lawrence University Concert Choir
(Conducted and Composed by Santiago Veros)
“Lawrence University Concert Choir is a choir conducted by Stephen Sieck. This version was recorded at the concert where Santiago dedicated the performance in tribute to his uncle Omar Cano just a few hours after his departure from this world. Live in concert on October 11, 2022 in Lawrence Memorial Chapel under the direction of Santiago Veros.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the ListenAfresh community?
Santiago: It has really been very pleasant to share a moment with all the readers, but I saved the best for last. Do you remember how I said that for me writing a play is like throwing a party? Well, I’m actually working to throw a party and celebrate the wonders that coming together can do. I want to do something outstandingly fun and high performance and everyone is invited!
I have received the honorable invitation from DCINY to give a concert at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center. When they told me “the model is to invite and unite all the choirs to spend several days rehearsing together to give a great concert”, I felt that it was all I wanted. I wanted to celebrate by bringing people together and providing a wonderful experience for everyone. I felt like I was going to be the mother of all parties. Three or four days to be in a fantastic place, meet each other and have a lot of fun. A concert with all the works talking about the wonders that we can achieve when we come together and work as a team. And not only that, but we will also make the words we sing come to life and build something truly extraordinary together.
It’s very exciting stuff and I wish many choirs would consider joining. I simply want to show my hypothesis that the most wonderful things in the world happen when wills come together. AND
The easiest way to reach Santiago is via email:
To see scores and stay up-to-date with news,
where I often write a newsletter with very useful information so you can be part of more initiatives.
I also use Instagram a lot. There, I show how commissions I’m working on and tours visiting choirs around the world are evolving.
I have a professional messaging WhatsApp that can make brief and instant communication speed up some processes. You know, email has its assigned days: +54 9 11 2555-5615
Title: Featured Composer Santiago Veros